Yesterday, we remembered Yogi Berra, the second manager to lead the Mets to the World Series, on the occasion of his 88th birthday. Today, Bobby Valentine, the most recent man to achieve the feat turns another year older. Love him or hate him (though, thankfully, the sentiment on this site trends toward affection) Valentine is undoubtedly the second-best skipper in franchise history. His 536 wins trail only Davey Johnson for most by a Mets manager and he's the only dugout boss under whom the team has made back-to-back postseason appearances (though in Davey's defense, had the wild card existed, the Mets would have made the playoffs every year between 1984 and 1988).
Now back to Bobby V. While his on- and off-field managerial exploits have been well-covered here (and elsewhere on the internet by Amazin' Avenue writers) not much has been said about his playing career. Mainly because he never really put it together in the majors (as the 63 OPS+ he posted for the Mets from 1977 to '78 attests), though that was due to injuries more than anything else. A decorated high school athlete who was recruited for the USC track team and won state championships in ballroom dancing, Valentine, at age 18, was taken by the Dodgers with the fifth overall pick of the 1968 draft. He promptly one Pioneer League MVP honors in his first minor league season and earned a call-up in late 1969.
He'd return to the minors for further development, but upon being named MVP of the Pacific Coast League in 1970, the versatile Valentine made it to the majors for good come 1971. After two years of super-utility duty for the Dodgers, Bobby V got the chance to play regularly when the team shipped him across county lines to the California Angels in a trade for All-Star pitcher Andy Messerschmidt. For a brief moment, it looked like Valentine would blossom in Orange County. His enticing combination of speed and skills helped him rack up 1.1 rWAR in the 1973 season's first 30 games, but on May 17, Valentine caught his spikes in Anaheim Stadium's chain link outfield fence while tracking a fly ball. His leg shattered in several places and the compound fracture knocked him out of action for nearly a year. Clearly, donning an Angels uniform offered no divine protection.
Though Valentine would eventually return, his greatest asset-speed-never did. His leg, perhaps set incorrectly (Bobby later sued for malpractice, but lost) healed in such a way that his calf muscle atrophied. Slowed permanently, he returned to the bench and gutted out a few more season before retiring in 1979 at age 29. Another reminder that sometimes TINSTAPP: There's no such thing as a prospect. Period.
The Mets released Rickey Henderson on this date thirteen years ago today. Henderson had the last great year of his Hall of Fame career in 1999 by both traditional (.315/.423/.466) and advanced (3.3 oWAR) statistics, but slumped badly in 2000. That, coupled with a lingering tension between player and team over his contract, earned Rickey his walking papers.
Game of Note
If not for Wrigley Field's official scorer ruling against him, Gary Gentry could have thrown the first Mets no-hitter on May 13, 1970. The 23-year old right-hander kept the Chicago Cubs hitless through seven innings, but with two out in the eighth, Ernie Banks flared a pop fly to shallow left. Dave Marshall charged hard trying to make a shoestring catch...only to have the ball clank off his mitt. Jim Enright, working the official book for Chicago, deemed Marshall's pursuit of the bloop extraordinary and thus ruled the play a single. Gentry, to his credit, wasn't rattled. He went on to retire four of the next four Cubs (with just a hit batsman to break the pattern) and settled for a one-hit, 4-0 complete game victory.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
George de Mestral, creator of the fabric hook-and-loop fastener system, trademarked his invention under the name Velcro on this date in 1958. Thirty-four years later, David Letterman donned a suit made de Mestral's "zipperless zippers" for comedic effect on Late Night, a clip of which you can watch here. Dave's guest that evening was standup Richard Lewis, a noted Mets fan. On the occasion of Johan Santana's no-hitter, Lewis tweeted, "I waited fifty years to see the Mets get a no-hitter and for me to get the balls to get married."